South of California’s Bay Area with its buzzing tech startups and expensive housing, Santa Cruz County has been overlooked by the big Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The city of Santa Cruz had less than stellar connectivity, and the rest of Santa Cruz County was no better. That’s when county leaders decided to rewrite the rules.
Throughout 2014 and early 2015, the Board of Supervisors for Santa Cruz County developed a broadband master plan, created a “dig once” policy, and streamlined the regulatory permit process. Cutting down red tape at the county level encouraged both small and large ISPs to reconsider investing in Santa Cruz.
Streamlining To Increase Competition
Although large ISPs have enough money and personnel to focus exclusively on permit acquisition, smaller ISPs must find a way to contend with the permitting process with limited resources. Santa Cruz County's new policies and processes enable all ISPs interested in Santa Cruz County to compete on better terms. Under these new rules, ISPs have a more equal playing field.
The policies reduce the amount of time spent on the regulatory process for ISPs building fiber networks. A master lease agreement simplifies the procedure to use county assets for networks. Modified ordinances enable ISPs to easily install or upgrade infrastructure in the county’s right-of-way. (Right-of-way is public land managed for the public good, especially boulevards and medians along roadways.)
We spoke with Santa Cruz County Board Supervisor Zach Friend about the impact of these policies and the Santa Cruz County master broadband plan. He credited the new policies for encouraging providers to offer better services. (Cruzio is building a fiber network in the city of Santa Cruz, and Comcast decided to increase speeds without raising prices in Santa Cruz county.) Supervisor Friend also emphasized that the public discussions brought attention to the need for improved Internet access in the community.
A Model For Other Counties
In late 2014, the California Broadband Council highlighted the work of Santa Cruz County and the draft policies that Supervisor Friend presented. Now most jurisdictions within Santa Cruz County have adopted similar policies, and Supervisor Friend has presented drafts of the policies to several other areas throughout California.
Dig Once: The "dig once" policy lays out how all construction or repaving of a county right-of-way will include measures for installing cable or conduit. Any project that involves digging in or adjacent to the County of right-of-way has to include installation of cable or conduit. The policy puts the Director of Public Works in charge of administering the program, exempting projects, inspecting projects, and issuing citations. Violating the rule is considered a public nuisance.
Master Lease Agreement: The master lease agreement ensures that all providers get similar, fair treatment in getting access to County right-of-way, conduit, and other facilities. The lease is designed for a five-year term, with an option to extend another five years. Each year the payment increases by about four percent. Knowing how the County has treated other providers creates consistency, and a draft lease agreement cuts down on paperwork for the County.
Santa Cruz County wants to treat telecommunication infrastructure like a utility: less permits, less paperwork, and more access. Read the “dig once” draft policy and the draft conduit specifications, master lease agreement, and telecommunications ordinance as presented to the California Broadband Council.